A thorough understanding of the physical and chemical changes that occur in the body after death is critical for accurate interpretation of gross and microscopic pathology at autopsy. Furthermore, knowledge of the postmortem processes and the factors that affect them will aid in the estimation of the postmortem interval (PMI). The estimation of the PMI is important in many human and animal death investigations. Despite many decades of research, accuracy in estimation of the time of death has not significantly improved, and no single method can be reliably used to accurately estimate the time of death. Great care should be taken when formulating such an estimate, for it is dependent on multiple circumstantial and environmental factors, and the accuracy and precision of the estimate decrease as the PMI increases. The majority of the research in the field has been conducted on human bodies, but many relevant conclusions may be drawn regarding the expected postmortem changes in animals and the estimation of the PMI. The veterinary pathologist must use great caution when attempting to extrapolate data and apply formulas designed for use in humans. Methods reviewed include gross changes, microscopic changes, temperature-based methods, postmortem chemistry, molecular methods, microbial assay, ocular changes, radiography, entomology, and others. Although only several of these methods are currently practical for use in the workup of cases, it is expected that future research will result in improved techniques with enhanced accuracy in the estimation of the PMI, which will benefit both human and veterinary forensic investigations.
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